Nearly forty years ago, when their own scientists confirmed what government and university researchers were learning about the likely consequences of the rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Shell faced a choice: change their business models or challenge the science that threatened those models. The oil companies chose the latter option. And over the next several decades, through a variety of means and front organizations, they successfully blocked action on climate change by manufacturing doubt about climate science.
Below Yale Climate Connections presents a chronological listing of twelve books that reported on different aspects of this concerted effort to deny and obstruct climate science and policy-making. Also highlighted are three reports that offer tips for debunking climate-dismissive arguments.
As with previous YCC bookshelves, the descriptions are drawn from publishers’ catalogue copy. When two dates of publication are provided, the second marks the release of the paperback.
Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis – and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster, by Ross Gelbspan (Basic Books 2004/2005, 288 pages, $17.99)
In Boiling Point, Ross Gelbspan argues that the fossil fuel industry directed the Bush administration’s energy and climate policies – payback for helping Bush get elected. Then the coal industry sabotaged an effort in the Senate to begin to regulate carbon dioxide. Officials of Switzerland, France, and Canada said that they intend to take the United States to court under the World Trade Organization, reasoning that the U.S.’s refusal to lower their carbon emissions amounts to an illegal subsidy – a “carbon subsidy” – on its exports. With the reelection of George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled congress, Boiling Point is more imperative than ever. [Substitute “Trump” for “Bush,” and what was old is new again.]
Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming, by Mark Bowen (Dutton 2008, 336 pages, $16.00 paperback)
NASA’s leading climate expert, Dr. Hansen first broke the international news on global warming at a Senate hearing in 1988. Little did he expect the rising storm of politically motivated resistance, denial, and obstruction. Revealing the extent of the Bush administration’s censorship of Dr. Hansen’s findings, Censoring Science sets the record straight with solid scientific facts: for example, the hottest years on record have occurred in the last two decades, and ice is melting at record rates all around the planet. Dr. Hansen shows how we can still prevent environmental disaster if the country and the government are willing to face the truth about global warming.
Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life, by Peter J. Jacques (Routledge 2009, 234 pages, $160.00)
‘Environmental skepticism’ describes the viewpoint that major environmental problems are either unreal or unimportant. In this book, political scientist Peter Jacques describes, both empirically and historically, how environmental skepticism has been organized by mostly U.S.-based conservative think tanks as an anti-environmental counter-movement. This is the first book to analyze the importance of the U.S. conservative counter-movement in world politics and its meaning for democratic and accountable deliberation, as well as its importance as a mal-adaptive project that hinders the world’s people to rise to the challenges of sustainability.
The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming, by Howard Friel (Yale University Press 2010/2011, 258 pages, $20.00 paperback)
In this major assessment of leading climate-change skeptic Bjørn Lomborg [ The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001); Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (2007) ], Howard Friel meticulously deconstructs the Danish statistician’s claim that global warming is “no catastrophe” by exposing the systematic misrepresentations that are at the core of climate skepticism. His detailed analysis serves not only as a guide to reading the global warming skeptics, but also as a model for assessing the state of climate science, from Arctic sea ice to the Antarctic ice sheet. Friel’s able defense of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth against Lomborg’s repeated attacks is by itself worth an attentive reading.
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway (Bloomsbury Press 2010/2011, 355 pages, $18.00 paperback)
Now a powerful documentary from the acclaimed director of Food Inc., Merchants of Doubt was one of the most talked-about climate change books of recent years, for reasons easy to understand: It tells the controversial story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. The same individuals who claim the science of global warming is “not settled” have also denied the truth about studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it.
Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions, by Joseph Romm (Island Press 2010, 233 pages, paperback)
In 2009, Rolling Stone named Joe Romm to its list of “100 People Who Are Changing America.” Romm is a physicist, energy consultant, and former official in the Department of Energy. But it’s his influential blog that caught national attention. Straight Up draws on Romm’s most important posts to explain the dangers of and solutions to climate change that you won’t find in the main-stream media. Despite the dearth of reporting, polls show that two in five Americans think the press is actually exaggerating the threat of climate change. That gives Big Oil, and others with a vested interest in the status quo, a huge opportunity to mislead the public. Romm cuts through the misinformation and presents the truth about humanity’s most dire threat. [See also Romm’s Hell and High Water (2007), Language Intelligence (2012), and Climate Change (2016).]
The Inquisition of Climate Science, by James Lawrence Powell (Columbia University Press 2011/2012, 272 pages, $25.00 paperback)
The Inquisition of Climate Science is the first book to comprehensively take on the climate science denial movement and the deniers themselves, exposing their lack of credentials, their extensive industry funding, and their failure to provide any alternative theory to explain the observed evidence of warming. Geochemist James Lawrence Powell shows that the deniers use a wide variety of deceptive rhetorical techniques, many stretching back to ancient Greece. Carefully researched, fully referenced, and compellingly written, his book clearly reveals that the evidence of global warming is real and that an industry of denial has deceived the American public, putting them and their grandchildren at risk.
Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand, by Haydn Washington and John Cook (Earthscan 2011, 192 pages, $31.95 paperback)
Humans have always used denial. When we are afraid, guilty, confused, or when something interferes with our self-image, we tend to deny it. But when it impacts the health of oneself, or society, or the world, denial becomes a pathology. Climate Change Denial explains the social science behind denial. It contains a detailed examination of the principal climate change denial arguments, from attacks on the integrity of scientists, to impossible expectations of proof and certainty, to the cherry picking of data. Climate change can be solved – but only when we cease to deny that it exists. This book shows how we can break through denial, accept reality, and thus solve the climate crisis. It will assist anyone seeking to roll back denial and act.
The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, by Michael E. Mann (Columbia University Press 2012/2013, 395 pages, $19.95)
The Hockey Stick – a graph correlating global temperatures with the use of fossil fuels – achieved prominence in a 2001 UN report and quickly became a central icon in the “climate wars.” The real issue has never been the graph’s data but rather its implied threat to those who oppose governmental regulation and other restraints to protect the environment and planet. Mann, lead author of the original Hockey Stick paper, shares the story of the science and politics behind this controversy. He reveals key figures in the oil and energy industries – and in the media frontgroups who do their bidding, sometimes bare-knuckled ways. Mann concludes with the real story of the 2009 “Climategate” scandal, in which climate scientists’ e-mails were hacked.
Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics, by Dana Nuccitelli (Praeger Books 2015, 212 pages, $48.00)
This book is the first to illustrate the accuracy – and inaccuracy – of global warming predictions made by mainstream climate scientists and by climate contrarians. Writing in simple, non-technical language that provides accessible explanations of key concepts, Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and risk assessor, discusses some key climate discoveries dating back to the 19th century and debunks myths such as the idea that climate scientists and climate models have grossly over-predicted global warming. He addresses recent findings of a 97-percent consensus in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that humans are causing global warming – a nearly unanimous agreement that formed in the early 1990s and has grown through the present.
The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles (Columbia University Press 2016/2018, 208 pages, $18.95 paperback)
Award-winning climate scientist Michael E. Mann and Pulitzer Prize–winning political cartoonist Tom Toles have been on the front lines of the fight against climate denialism for most of their careers. The Madhouse Effect portrays the ways denialists twist logic to explain away the clear evidence that human activity has changed Earth’s climate. Toles’s cartoons collapse counter-scientific strategies, helping readers see how to best strike at these fallacies. Mann’s skillful science communication restores sanity to a debate that continues to rage against scientific consensus. The synergy of these two climate science crusaders enlivens the gloom and doom of so many climate-themed books – and may even convert die-hard doubters to the side of sound science.
Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival, by Dr. Peter Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth (Clarity Press 2018, 269 pages, $27.95 paperback)
Unprecedented Crime lays out the culpability of governmental, political and religious bodies, corporations, and the media for their failure to report or act on the climate emergency. Extreme weather reporting never even hints at the need to address climate change. Carter and Woodworth then report how, independently of governments, scores of proven zero-carbon game changers have been coming online all over the world. These exciting technologies can now power both households and energy-dense, heavy industries. We already have the technical solutions to the CO2 problem, and with these solutions we can act in time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero within 20 years. This book will show readers how to overcome climate denial.
Three Reports from Skeptical Science
A pivotal figure in the effort to counter global warming skepticism is John Cook, who started the Skeptical Science website in 2007, while still a student at the University of Queensland in Australia. Since then Cook has (co)authored reports to alert readers to the manufactured arguments they’re likely to encounter when discussing climate change in public. Two – The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticsm (2010) and The Debunking Handbook (2011) – can be downloaded from the Skeptical Science website. The third, The Consensus Handbook (2018), is available from the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, where John Cook now works as a research assistant professor.